We are often approached by new platforms and apps to come onboard as early adopters and to invest time in creating content for the new platform or app. This is something that we enjoy, as we like to experiment, meet new people at the early stages of a platform or app and become a part of their culture, and ultimately study the properties that result in the platform or app thriving long term or closing up shop. Creating content for a new platform or app is an investment of time and money though, so is something that needs to be analyzed for its value. My Master of Educational Technology is encouraging me to take that study and analysis a step further in creating an Analyst Report from the perspective of a potential investor. Hopefully, this will become a semi-regular instalment of Analyst Reports here on StoryToGo.
Potential Investment: Graphy
Launched in June 2020, Graphy is a new edtech platform, designed to deliver vertical courses tailored for smartphones with vertical video. They have a quickly growing catalogue of vertical courses or ‘Graphies’ as they call them – just shy of 250 as of the middle of October 2020 – on a variety of subjects ranging from cooking, to language learning, to music, to science, to technology, to marketing, and the list goes on.
The team behind Graphy are not new to edtech or elearning. The umbrella corporation of which Graphy is a part of is Sorting Hat Technologies, based in Bengaluru, India, with co-founders Gaurav Munjal (CEO), Roman Saini (Chief Educator), and Hemesh Singh (CTO).
Sorting Hat Technologies also owns Unacademy, which is touted as “India’s largest learning platform.” Unacademy, founded in 2015, is targeted to helping students in India to cracking various competitive examinations. Sorting Hat Technologies has a history of rapid growth of courses and students to their elearning platforms with attracting over 300,000 students to over 2,400 online lessons and specialized courses in a 6-month period. Unacademy has been witnessing an upsurge in usage since the onset of the pandemic, with April 2020 seeing the highest video watch in a month for Unacademy in its five-year-old journey. With this came a 82% surge in revenue from the previous month and 10x the growth from April 2019.
Unacademy is currently valued at $510 million, and received $110 million in Series E financing in March 2020 led by General Atlantic (with 9.94% ownership in Unacademy). Other investors in the company include Facebook (3.31% ownership in Unacademy), Sequoia India (21.47% ownership in Unacademy), Blume Ventures (3.1% ownership in Unacademy), Steadview Capital (7.39% ownership in Unacademy), and Nexus Venture Partners (3.18% ownership in Unacademy).
Graphy is led by a separate team with co-founders Sushil Kumar, Sumit Jain, Shobhit Bakliwal and Fiona Leong.
Problem Being Solved
Initially Graphy was positioning the problem they were solving as an interactive alternative to books, as they had the notion that people no longer read books.
In reality though, the problem that they seem to be solving is delivering mobile learning options in a manner geared to learners that are partial to Instagram Stories, TikTok, and Facebook Stories. As Graphy is specifically geared to learning experiences, it leads me to suspect that the problem being solved here related to books was to offer a more interactive and immersive alternative to textbook reading specifically.
Graphies have three key defining features:
- The delivery of interactive mlearning courses with vertical design to mimic that of Instagram Stories, TikTok, and Facebook Stories.
- Designing the courses to operate like an interactive textbook, of the sort that you might imagine in Hogwarts, with chapters.
- The ability to schedule the release of different chapters of your Graphy.
To both market and highlight these features, Graphy has designed its own lingo for course creators and users.
- Graphy = a course
- Grapher = a course creator
- Graphies = multiple Graphy
- Chapter = a course unit
While there are certainly Graphies targeted to learners who fall outside this, the list below represents the target consumer groups for whom Graphies are being designed.
- learners that are partial to Instagram Stories, TikTok, and Facebook Stories
- undergrad students
- young entrepreneurs
- learners interested in areas of the arts, like photography, dance, fine arts, comedy, music … etc.
It should be noted that while Unacademy was targeted to learners in Indian, the goal with Graphy is to create for learners World Wide.
Current Assets (as of October 2020)
- a unique approach to mobile learning
- a team that understands what learners in India respond well to
- a preexisting consumer base in India, interested in elearning
- resources and coaching for course creators on the development of their Graphy
- vertical video resources and coaching for course creators
- an understanding of where to find potential course creators and how to approach them
- a quality control system
- financial backing behind the parent company
- proven success in elearning in India
- a team of educators, technologists, elearning designers, and marketers behind the parent company
Current Challenges (as of October 2020)
The greatest growing pain for Graphy at present seems to be defining who they are and what they do.
They are a company named after a book reference (from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series of novels), yet their CEO Gaurav Munjal tweeted by way of introduction to Graphy, “Books haven’t changed since a really really really long time. Maybe it’s time to change that?” While the idea of interactive books is cool, this simple statement suggests a lack of understanding of the magic of books and imagination. Perhaps the company’s reference to Harry Potter reflect the movie, rather than the books, as the reader knows the books held far more magic and possibilities than the movies did. And one just needs to look to the popularity and demand for YA fiction to know that young people are still reading and enjoying books.
In being pitched on becoming a Grapher (course creator), I was asked the question posed in this video:
My response was that I’d finished a book yesterday, yet the person pitching me said, “You see, books are dated and need to be replaced.” I was then shown the scene in the Chamber of Secrets, when Harry wrote in Tom Riddle’s diary and a scene and story began to emerge from the pages of the book. The question, “Wouldn’t this be cool?” Yes, it would, but that does not take away the value and appreciation of traditional books and what they allow your imagination to conjure. Ultimately, despite being told that a Graphy is an interactive book, this is misleading, as they are not looking for storytellers to create works of fiction. Rather they are looking for educators to create elearning experiences. If equating this to books, what they are really suggesting is dated here and needs transforming are textbooks.
Based on the shift in their marketing this Autumn, I suspect I am not alone in pointing out this source of confusion and potential to turn readers off.
Other challenges for the platform, include:
- marketing and attracting learners beyond India
- crafting quality content that learners respond positively to
- competition in a marketplace with a number of other elearning providers that are established, including Coursera, Udemy, Learn It Live, and OutSchool.
I learned about Graphy, as the team behind it are actively searching for and approaching individuals whom they think will create Graphies that will be of value to the learners that they hope to reach with the platform. In looking at the sorts of Graphers that they have on-board already, I am impressed to see that they have been strategically approaching people with diversity in mind – diversity of ethnicity, diversity of abilities, diversity of gender, diversity of ages, and diversity in the content created.
Aside from the mixed messaging around what Graphy is, I was impressed with my initial meeting with Graphy. They had done their research on who I was. In learning how they’d found me and why they’d approached me, it was for a heart filled reason around a mutual believe in learning that I had shared in one of my social media posts around a quote of Gandhi’s. That impressed me, as it suggested they believed in what they were doing for reasons of passion, and wished to find other likeminded people to help grow that vision. This is important for me, as if I am investing my time and money, I want to know that it is with something that the creators are invested in and intend to work at growing. Shared values are also extremely important to me, as life is too short to spend it creating with people that you don’t respect or trust. The fact that they’d done their research on who I am and tailored their meeting with me to that, meant that they were invested in me.
In that first meeting, they also presented me with a number of incentives to get started in creating a Graphy and doing so quickly. I am not a huge fan of the hard sell, but while having said (and thought) that, I realized this was a cleverly strategic approach to getting Graphers involved and invested while you have their attention, and building content to the platform quickly, in order to attract in learners.
While I did not have the time in my schedule to accept any of their fast course building incentives, I have begun to develop my first Graphy as a Grapher, because I think there is potential in what they are creating and I wish to explore the platform further. They also had a fare offer for me that mirrors that of what we are offering our course creators in the StoryToGo Classroom, in that the course creator keep ownership over the materials they create, and the percentage split between the course creator and the platform on learner sign ups is a fair one.
I am still at the early stages of creating my first Graphy, but have been hugely impressed at how organized the platform is in the development of new Graphies and Graphers, and at the support offered, as well as quality control.
Graphers are provided with:
- Quality Guidelines;
- the importance of not breaking Copyright laws are emphasized, and Creative Commons resources are shared;
- resources are provided for preparing your materials from content development, to filming, to editing, to image creation;
- filming tips for vertical video creation are given;
- and you are given a learning designer to work with, or SPOC as they are called.
My SPOC has already reached out to me with personalized messages based on my intro video on ways that I can improve upon my vertical filming of myself. They are going for a particular look of being seemingly personal and intimate in your connection with the camera and not appearing to be professionally produced, while at the same time ensuring high quality production value. Part of the job of the SPOC is to approve content before it is published and send you notes where improvements need to be made. This is a good thing, as it means that Graphy is invested in publishing high quality content, and ensures that my Graphies will be in good company.
While my first Graphy is not complete yet, it does appear that the company is invested in marketing individual Graphies. I will update this further once I have reached that stage with the Graphy I am developing.
Would I Invest in Graphy?
Tentatively, yes. I just want to go through all the stages of a Graphy development before giving a firm “yes”.
From my research, Sorting Hat Technologies’ track record, the company’s access to funds, the company’s present investors, and the active and tailored development the company is putting into their Graphers, Graphy presents a safe investment and a lot of potential. Added to that, I believe in their perceived values and the intent in what they are creating.
Whether you are interested in investing in Graphy or not, there is a lot that can be learned from how they are launching this edtech startup.
- With Unacademy thriving and new investment into the company, this presents an opportunity to create something new, intended for a broader marketplace.
- Graphy is investing in research and actively seeking out course creators, and demonstrating value and respect for the course creators that are investing their time and trust in creating content for the platform.
- Graphy has taken the time to develop resources and guides to help their course creators develop quality content.
- Graphy is providing SPOCs for quality control and coaching in elearning development.
- Incentives are being offered to early Graphers who create content at an accelerated pace to propagate the platform.
- Course creators maintain their intellectual property, creating a positive relationship between the platform and the creator.
- Course creators are being offered a fair percent split of sales.
- When Graphy realized their initial pitch was not working, they pivoted and refined it.
- Sorting Hat Technologies invests in it’s people, and rewards them when they experience success.
Ravi (2020, February 21). Facebook Backs Indian Education Startup ‘Unacademy’ with $110 Million Investment. The CEO Story. https://theceostory.in/blog/unacademy/
Mitter, S. (2020, August 21). Unacademy wants to ‘spark your imagination’ with interactive storytelling app Graphy. Your Story. https://yourstory.com/2020/08/unacademy-spark-imagination-interactive-storytelling-app-graphy
Upadhyay, H. (2020, June 12). Unacademy introduces new product “Graphy” with a separate founding team. Entrackr. https://entrackr.com/2020/06/unacademy-pilots-new-product-graphy/
Upadhyay, H., & Tyagi, G. (2020, May 12). Exclusive: Unacademy expands ESOPs pool to $42 Mn. Entrackr. https://entrackr.com/2020/05/exclusive-unacademy-expands-esops-pool-to-42-mn/
Vardhan, J. & Tyagi, G. (2020, March 20). Decoding Unacademy’s $110 Mn Series E Round Entrackr. https://entrackr.com/2020/03/decoding-unacademys-110-mn-series-e-round/
White, J. (2020, August 4). Graphy – interactive stories, ideas, books, and more. TapSmart. https://www.tapsmart.com/apps/graphy-interactive-stories-ideas-books/